The Reputation Shaper B-R-A-I-N in 2021

The Reputation Shaper B-R-A-I-N in 2021

Eleanor Frere

Eleanor Frere

With over thirty years of experience here at Firefly, we’ve seen a lot of things come and go and experienced many transformations and makeovers, not only of ourselves, but our whole industry.

While there would normally be a fair bit of breathing space between each new iteration, now, we’re lucky if we get a few weeks. Having recently reflected on how comms professionals and marketers have had to adapt with Just Marketing in May last year, our thoughts are already in need of a serious update.

Normal – but not as we know it

Entering this new year, not only have we made changes, but the whole world has changed yet again. The ‘new normal’ is a phrase we’re all a little tired of hearing but, don’t worry, it may soon fade away and be replaced with a new phrase. In 2021, we will now need to prepare for the ‘next normal’.

So, what does that mean? More specifically, what does that mean for comms and marketing professionals? And what tools, competencies and mindsets will be needed to successfully navigate it?

To hopefully help answer these questions, here are our insights into the five key elements for a comms and marketing B-R-A-I-N in 2021.


The lines between comms and marketing have been gradually merging but we will now see that line fade out completely.

Despite working at a distance, different departments have been forced to collaborate more and to achieve desired goals, especially in trying times, marketing and comms cannot be working in silos. We need to be thinking about the bigger picture – we’re no longer either comms or marketing professionals, we’re all the moulders and builders of brands and their reputations. There’s a reason we’re now talking about the reputation shaper brain and not the comms or marketing brain.

Those reputations are built on views from others – customers, partners, the media, employees or candidates, stakeholders, even Alexa and Google Nest. As a result, our job roles are even broader than before and cut across all these elements. Not to mention, with changing customer expectations, we’re now needing to interact far more with other disciplines too, such as supply chain teams or R&D.  We’ve gone far beyond multi-tasking, we’re multidisciplinary.


In 2020, many marketing and comms budgets were slashed and while the economic outlook for 2021 is brighter, many businesses will most likely still be penny pinching – or at least much more discerning with where they spend their precious pounds. Consequently, comms and marketing professionals may be expected to do the same activities and achieve the same results and outcomes (or even more) with less. 2021 will be the year of the ‘work-around’, finding ways to conduct activities differently  ̶  and possibly, more cheaply.

Our industry is known for creativity but now, we need to get creative with our resources. The same avenues and possibilities that were previously a standard go-to may no longer be open to us. For example, take the likes of surveys – whether that be looking at public sentiment, that of customers or employees – these can offer critical insights for the required direction and structure of comms and marketing, even overall business plans. But they can be costly too. So, we need to make the most of what we have to hand: Using social media polls to garner customer feedback and whether you’re using Zoom, Google Meet or Slack to keep up with colleagues, creating internal polls within these platforms is easy.  

If you cannot offer monetary prizes for employee polls, how about randomly selecting someone from those taking part to finish early on a Friday or start later on the Monday? It’s free and certainly a good incentive.  


The flip side to covering so much ground and different areas of expertise is that more attention needs to be paid to pursuing the right activities, with the right audiences that will generate the intended results. While making really solid plans is still nigh on impossible, outlining clear, concrete goals is key. If these are not defined and agreed, it’s easy to fly off in different directions, overstretching (potentially already strained) teams and ending up far off target.

‘Think before you do’ must be any reputation shaper’s mantra. Hopefully being able to still gain those crucial insights into behaviours, needs and wants, you are armed with the necessary information to target where you can truly offer value – perhaps even identifying the issues people are not even aware of themselves. With circumstances changing at such rapid rates, people don’t only want to work with those who can address their current problems but can predict, and even help avoid, future ones.

These missions and goals also need to be accurately measured. When budgets are tight, not only do we need to prove value to customers and clients but also internally. We need to ask ourselves: Are these metrics a proper reflection of efforts and value and do they work in the current climate? If not, change them.

I:ntimacy and intent

Many of us have got a little up close and personal with colleagues, customers and clients over the past months, with intimate peeks into private and home lives.

While the current situation in the UK is very worrying and there is no indication when lockdown may be lifted, with vaccines now being rolled out, it’s possible that this year, we’ll begin to see a return to the office. It will no longer be Zoom all day, every day (perhaps to the disappointment of Zoom) but a careful balancing act of working with colleagues in-person and remotely. Still, how we interact and communicate with one another has fundamentally changed and even as we enter another new phase of working, that shift will carry over.

This greater sense of intimacy also brings with it a greater sense of responsibility. Having come closer together, there are now more feelings, no matter the industry or sector, of needing to give something back. Reaching out to communities to share positive actions being undertaken will be part and parcel of growing and safeguarding a company’s reputation.


In uncertain times, it’s easy to hold on tight to anything that’s familiar. As we may start to see what seems like a return to ‘how things were’, many may assume and will return to the same activities, the same approaches. Afterall, we know they worked before and more importantly, they feel safe.

With budget restraints and unpredictable changes to contend with, this behaviour is forgivable, but it will not in fact yield the same results as before. Following months of mundanity in lockdown, people want to see something different. Those marketers and comms professionals who are brave enough to still try a wacky campaign (albeit likely on a reduced scale and budget), will be the ones to get cut through and stand out.

As mentioned before, ours is a creative industry, so we need to make sure that we’re still flexing those creative brain muscles.

So, this 2021: Look at the bigger picture, specify, be resourceful and, while it may be scary, be bold!   

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